American Athletic Conference Preview: Keeping up with the Cardinals

Aug 21, 2013 |
The American Athletic Conference is part of the remains of the Big East Conference. The AAC will be a combination of teams from the old Big East Conference and some teams brought over from Conference USA. Louisville is expected to carry the torch for the new conference. Teddy Bridgewater is a serious Heisman Trophy contender. Who can compete with the Cardinals in 2013? This is the last year for an automatic BCS bowl game for this conference.

Louisville Cardinals (2012: 11-2 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win conference: -160
Season win total: 10.5

Why bet the Cardinals: Bridgewater is the best player in this conference by a mile. Charlie Strong has this team believing it can do something special, and they proved they are capable of a lot in their Sugar Bowl win over Florida last year. This running game should be very good with Dyer and Perry sharing time in the backfield. The defense returns 10 of 11 starters from last season.

Why not bet the Cardinals: Louisville was awful on special teams last year, and nothing has really changed to make this unit much better in 2013. This is the type of thing that can cost a team a couple of games throughout the season. The offensive front isn’t as experienced as it was last year.

Season win total pick: Over 10.5

Cincinnati Bearcats (2012: 10-3 SU, 9-3 ATS)

Odds to win conference:
Season win total: 9

Why bet the Bearcats: This team has proven it can win consistently. Remember, Cincinnati won at least a share of four of the last five Big East titles. Tommy Tuberville was a good hire for the program. The offensive line is the best in the conference. Linebacker Greg Blair might be the best defensive player in the AAC. There is plenty of experience on this team.

Why not bet the Bearcats: Cincinnati struggled to win close games a year ago. The offense has a little bit of a shortage of play makers after losing its top rusher and two leading receivers from last season. The secondary had lapses against the best passing attacks last season.

Season win total pick: Over 9

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2012: 9-4 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Odds to win conference: +525
Season win total: 7

Why bet the Scarlet Knights: Rutgers has a lot more talent on the defensive end than most teams in this conference. The Merrell twins are superior athletes who should have special senior seasons. The Scarlet Knights defense allowed only 14.2 points per game last year, and they should be excellent again in 2013.

Why not bet the Scarlet Knights: Rutgers has some major question marks on the offensive end. Gary Nova threw 16 interceptions last year, and he completed less than half of his throws during the team’s three-game losing streak last season. The Scarlet Knights struggle to finish drives. Only ten starters return on the entire Rutgers roster.

Season win total pick: Under 7

Central Florida Knights (2012: 10-4 SU, 7-7 ATS)

Odds to win conference: +1000
Season win total: 7.5

Why bet the Knights: Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson are a tremendous duo in the starting backfield for the Knights. Bortles is a budding star at quarterback. He should start getting a ton of attention from pro scouts this year. Johnson is a quick runner who can break a big run at any time. The Knights also return three top receivers. This offense should be extremely good.

Why not bet the Knights: UCF is accustomed to winning with defense, but the defense returns just five starters from a year ago. Seven of their top ten tacklers from last year are gone. The offensive and defensive front might struggle a bit as UCF moves away from Conference USA and has to go up against some tougher teams in the trenches.

Season win total pick: Over 7.5

SMU Mustangs (2012: 7-6 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Odds to win conference: +2500
Season win total: 5.5

Why bet the Mustangs: SMU has gone to four straight bowl games. June Jones is great at getting the most out of his talent. Garrett Gilbert should be much better in his second year in Jones’ complex offensive system. The Mustangs have quite a bit of talent in the back seven of their defense.

Why not bet the Mustangs:
SMU returns only 11 starters from last year’s team. The Mustangs lost a huge contributor in running back Zach Line, and it’s hard to imagine the team not experiencing a significant drop off at that position. The entire defensive line had to be replaced, and that was the strength of the defense last season. The schedule is extremely tough from start to finish.

Season win total pick: Under 5.5

UConn Huskies (2012: 5-7 SU, 4-6-2 ATS)

Odds to win conference:
Season win total: 6

Why bet the Huskies: The Huskies lost only 12 lettermen from last year’s team, so this will be one of the most experienced teams in the AAC. Lyle McCombs is a talented running back who should have a good junior season. Yawin Smallwood was the team’s leading tackler last year, and he’ll be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in the AAC this season.

Why not bet the Huskies: UConn had the worst offensive line in the Big East by a mile last year, and that will be a problem again in 2013. McCombs can’t get going because this line can’t seem to hold a block. The defense lost several of their top players, so they can’t be counted on to carry the team once again.

Season win total pick: Under 6

South Florida Bulls (2012: 3-9 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)

Odds to win conference:
Season win total: 5.5

Why bet the Bulls: Willie Taggart did an amazing job at Western Kentucky, and he should definitely be an upgrade for South Florida. He brings a ton of enthusiasm and positive energy to the program. Tailback Marcus Shaw should get a lot of chances to show his talent with the team’s new emphasis on running the football. The Bulls are strong in the trenches.

Why not bet the Bulls: USF has a big question mark at quarterback. Bobby Eveld hasn’t proven himself at all while at the school, and time will tell whether he can lead the team to very many victories. South Florida tied for dead last in the nation in turnover margin last season. An overall lack of talent at the skill positions on offense is concerning.

Season win total pick: Under 5.5

Houston Cougars (2012: 5-7 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Odds to win conference: +3500
Season win total: 6

Why bet the Cougars: Charles Sims is probably the most talented running back in the conference. Sims has a great combination of size and speed, and if he stays healthy he could definitely have a special season. David Piland has the tools necessary to succeed in this system, and he should be better in 2013.

Why not bet the Cougars: Houston’s defense lost its three best players from a year ago, and even with those guys on the field this unit allowed 36 points and 483 yards per game. Will they be able to stop anyone this year? Houston got into the end zone on only 52 percent of their trips into the red zone last season.

Season win total pick: Over 6

Memphis Tigers (2012: 4-8 SU, 7-5 ATS)

Odds to win conference: +6500
Season win total: 4.5

Why bet the Tigers: They finished the season on a three-game winning streak last year after starting 1-8. Coach Justin Fuente did a great job keeping the Tigers motivated last season after a bad start. Jacob Karam is an underrated senior starter at quarterback. He threw 14 touchdowns and only 3 picks last season. The defensive line is an area of strength.

Why not bet the Tigers:
The move up from Conference USA to the AAC could be tough for Memphis. This is a team that hasn’t been able to have a winning season in Conference USA since 2007, so there could be some growing pains in a tougher conference. Converting on third down has been a real problem over the last few years for Memphis.

Season win total pick:
Under 4.5

Temple Owls (2012: 4-7 SU, 4-7 ATS)

Odds to win conference: +8000
Season win total: 4.5

Why bet the Owls: Matt Rhule learned under Al Golden, and Golden was an extremely successful coach at Temple. Rhule should bring a lot of energy to the program. Temple returns 14 starters this year, so they’ll be an experienced team. The offensive line is one of the best in the conference.

Why not bet the Owls: Temple’s defense went from allowing less than 14 points per game in 2011 to giving up 31.2 per contest last year. The starting quarterback job is wide open, and whoever wins the job is unlikely to be a game changer. The Owls have one of the toughest schedules in the AAC this year.

Season win total pick: Under 4.5

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